Friday, December 8, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Congrats on making it to Friday, everyone! Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's health news. 

Biotech hedge fund titan steps down after harassment allegations

Sam Isaly, a legendary biotech investor and the leader of OrbiMed Advisors, is stepping down from the firm he founded following a slew of sexual harassment allegations published by STAT. OribMed's announcement last night came hours after STAT informed the firm that another woman had gone on the record with allegations against Isaly. STAT's Damian Garde has more here.

Diphtheria is spreading in Rohingya refugee settlement

Diphtheria is spreading quickly among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. More than 624,000 people fleeing violence in nearby Myanmar, many of them Rohingya Muslims, have poured into densely populated refugee settlements in Bangladesh. Those conditions can be a breeding ground for infectious diseases like diphtheria, which can cause a fever, sore throat, and in severe cases, respiratory system damage or death. There have been more than 110 suspected cases and six deaths tied to a diphtheria outbreak among refugees. Health officials are working to curb the outbreak by preparing to immunize children and stocking providers with antitoxins to treat the infection.

Rep. Franks, longtime abortion opponent, resigns

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) is resigning from the House of Representatives, Roll Call first reported. His announcement came as the Ethics Committee announced it was opening an investigation into possible sexual misconduct on Thursday. Franks said he'd discussed his interest in finding a surrogate with two subordinate women in his office, which made them uncomfortable. Franks has repeatedly sponsored legislation to ban abortions at 20 weeks, which the chamber has passed three times since 2011. The measure, which was never adopted by the Senate, relied on subjective scientific interpretations in its legislative language. With the resignation of Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) in October, scandals have cost House Republicans two prominent members popular in anti-abortion circles. 

Sponsor content by Elysium Health

Study finds daily dose of Elysium Health supplement boosts NAD+, safely and sustainably

You’ve probably heard of the coenzyme NAD+, what some scientists have called “the golden nucleotide.” It’s become a prized molecule in recent years because of its central role in biological functions, the recent discovery that NAD+ levels decline in humans with age, and mounting evidence that suggests increasing NAD+ in animals has positive health benefits.

It’s now possible to restore declining levels of NAD+ with Basis, a daily supplement from Elysium Health. In November, Nature Partner Journals: Aging and Mechanisms of Disease published the results of Elysium’s clinical trial, which identified a 40 percent increase in NAD+ levels after four weeks in adults taking the recommended daily dose of Basis. This increase was sustained at eight weeks. This is the first-ever demonstration that NAD+ levels can be increased and sustained in humans over a period of time. Read the full study.

Inside STAT: U.S. drug makers lag in Ebola vaccine development

Government labs and companies across the globe raced to test experimental vaccines in the face of the West Africa Ebola crisis. It’s been a year and a half since that outbreak was declared over, and the world has two licensed Ebola vaccines: One was made by scientists in Russia, the other by scientists in China. But the vaccines in the works in the U.S., Canada, and Europe are still plugging through the developmental pipeline. It looks like it’ll be 2019 at the earliest before an Ebola vaccine might be licensed by the Food and Drug Administration. The slow pace underscores just how expensive, complicated, and time-consuming it can be to develop and license a vaccine in the U.S. STAT’s Helen Branswell has more — read here.

Lab Chat: Saving cells from kidney disease


a podocyte in the flesh. (anna greka / broad institute of mit and harvard)

The kidney cells responsible for filtering blood, called podocytes, are often destroyed in progressive kidney disease. Now, new research breaks down how that cell death happens — and points to a possible way to intervene. Here’s what researcher Dr. Anna Greka of the Broad Institute told me about the work, published in Science.

What happens to these cells in progressive kidney disease?

Patients who have mutations that cause rare forms of kidney disease have defects in these essential cells called podocytes. Based on the genetics of a rare form of progressive kidney disease, we found that there’s a molecule that’s mutated. And when it’s mutated, it turns on another molecule which brings calcium ions into the cells. That turns out to be bad for the cells; it leads to their death.

How did you address that?

We developed a blocker to block that pathway in those podocytes. And we showed we can use this blocker to prevent death of podocytes and prevent progression of kidney disease. There has been a lack of therapies of any kind really in this space. For us, the next step in seeing if this translates to people is to check for toxicity. 

Is #MeToo changing your workplace?

If you work in science or medicine — in a lab, a hospital, a biotech startup, a pharma giant —  STAT wants to know: Is your workplace culture changing as a result of the spotlight on sexual harassment? Does it need to? Tell us here

What to watch for at this weekend's big blood disease conference

The annual American Society of Hematology meeting, the biggest medical conference for blood disorders, opens tomorrow in Atlanta. Taking center stage: Novel gene therapy and CAR-T cancer treatments for an array of diseases, including leukemia, hemophilia, sickle cell, and multiple myeloma. Already, we've heard some promising news from one company, Spark Therapeutics, which this week reported that its experimental gene therapy nearly eliminated bleeding episodes for patients with hemophilia B. STAT reporter Adam Feuerstein will be on the scene to cover new data from other companies, including Bluebird Bio, Gilead, Novartis, and Juno. Sign up for his free pop-up newsletter to get the latest news.

What to read around the web today

  • Nothing protects black women from dying in pregnancy and childbirth. ProPublica and NPR
  • VA kills plan to cut homeless-vet program after outcry. Politico
  • Taxi therapy for young cancer patients in Italy. New York Times

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Have a wonderful weekend!


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